The more days that pass since Gov. Pat McCrory signed the state budget, the more confusing that budget becomes, especially when trying to figure out what it means for public schools in North Carolina.
And McCrory is adding to the confusion with his private actions not matching his public words.
He said last week it was a budget he was proud to sign, citing the raises it provided for teachers and the fact that it fully funded teacher assistant positions at schools across the state.
But not only are the widely varying raises confusing for teachers and school administrators, officials with several school systems have since pointed out that the budget actually reduces funding for teacher assistants and for larger systems the reduction is several million dollars.
That’s not a surprise. Philip Price, the top financial officer at the Department of Public Instruction, says that the budget spends $105 million less on TAs than was planned for the year. That translates into a 22 percent cut.
McCrory and outgoing state Budget Director Art Pope seem especially concerned that school officials in McCrory’s hometown of Charlotte were lamenting the cuts, calling a Charlotte Observer reporter to set the record straight, claiming no cuts to TAs were made.
McCrory himself left little wiggle room, telling another Observer reporter that “any teacher assistant who was working in a classroom last year will be working again this year if the local superintendents and principals set it up that way based on money that we gave them.”
That’s McCrory’s public position anyway. It turns out his staff is now scrambling behind the scenes to convince legislators to change the funding schools receive for teachers by calculating it based on the average teacher salary, not the starting salary.
That means more money for teachers which schools can reallocate to keep more teacher assistants. That “flexibility” was also part of the budget, forcing schools to choose between adding teachers to reduce class size — or using the money to keep teacher assistants in the classroom.
The extra teacher money wasn’t enough to offset the funding cut for teacher assistants and now apparently McCrory is trying to find some more.
Interestingly, the talking points parroted by many supporters claims the budget does both — reduces class size and fully funds teacher assistants — when it actually forces schools to pick one or the other and doesn’t provide enough funding to make it a real choice.
McCrory’s staff is also trying to address what one school administrator called a radical change in education funding buried in the budget bill that would mean that increases in enrollment would no longer be automatically built into the education budget, leaving schools even more in the dark about the budgets session to session, making it all but impossible to plan for the next school year.
There’s been no real justification offered for that change and many legislators weren’t aware that it was part of the final budget agreement they approved.
Now McCrory wants it fixed along with the teacher funding formula. It’s not clear when or how it will happen, though the most likely scenario is a budget corrections bill that the House and Senate will have to approve if they can ever agree on when to end the current recess in the session and begin considering legislation again.
McCrory clearly has his work cut out for him. A good place to start would be admitting that the budget he was proud was to sign is not what he keeps claiming it is.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.